On Wednesday night, the North Carolina men’s basketball team squeaked by Notre Dame, 63-59, to pick up its 17th win of the season and keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
Three Tar Heels tallied double figures in rebounding, with forwards Armando Bacot, Leaky Black and Pete Nance grabbing 11, 11 and 10, respectively. North Carolina dominated Notre Dame on the glass, grabbing 23 offensive rebounds to the Fighting Irish’s eight while scoring 23 second chance points.
Bacot and junior guard Caleb Love led all scorers with 16 points apiece.
Here are the three main takeaways from the win:
Nance with a game-high five assists
On a night where the Tar Heels were ice cold, Nance’s shooting slump didn’t improve in the slightest.
The Northwestern transfer shot 3-12 from the field and missed all three of his uncontested threes. But Nance, who recently began to see a downtick in his playing time by splitting minutes with junior wing Puff Johnson, played a crucial role down the stretch in facilitating the offense.
Bacot scored six of his seven field goals in the second half, mostly off timely high-low entry passes from Nance, who dished all five of his assists in the second frame.
Since mid-December, Nance has shot 8-45 from beyond the arc, or 17.7 percent. Opposing teams have stopped respecting Nance’s 3-point shooting and have fully committed to double-teaming Bacot, who is almost guaranteed to either score or get fouled if guarded one-on-one down low.
Nance has struggled to rekindle his early-season hot streak of hitting tough turnaround fadeaways off the glass. The graduate forward has still continued to attempt the same post-ups when given the opportunity, but to no avail.
If Nance wants to continue gelling into the starting five, there’s more potential in showcasing his passing ability — but with two games left in the regular season, it might be too little, too late.
Shooting struggles persist
The Tar Heels shot 2-23 from downtown. In the first half, UNC shot 18.5 percent from the field, the lowest field goal percentage in a half since 1980.
Junior guard RJ Davis, who has usually been more consistent than his backcourt counterpart, might still be affected by a finger injury — particularly from long range. He missed all four of his threes against Notre Dame but seemed to be fine attacking the basket and shooting mid-range jumpers. It’s an improvement from his showing against N.C. State, where Davis shot 2-13 from the field and 1-6 from three.
Consistent with this season’s trends, trips to the charity stripe helped offset the Tar Heels’ shooting woes. While UNC ranks 332 out of 352 Division I teams in three-point percentage, it is tied for 12 in free throws made per game. Against Notre Dame, the Tar Heels made 15 of their 18 free throws, compared to the Fighting Irish going 6-9.
Facing a 27-19 deficit at halftime, North Carolina came out of the break with renewed aggression on defense. After putting full court, on-ball pressure and poking away a steal, Davis scored a fast-break layup within the first 80 seconds.
Less than 15 seconds later, Davis disrupted Notre Dame again, which led to a 3-pointer from Love. The sequence helped pull the Tar Heels within three points, and UNC ultimately outscored Notre Dame 44-32 in the second half.
Out of 15 ACC teams, UNC’s scoring defense is fourth-worst. But it held Notre Dame, one of the league’s prolific 3-point shooting teams, to just two makes on seven attempts from deep in the second half. Black continued to make his case for ACC Defensive Player of the Year, holding star guard Dane Goodwin to seven points.
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